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Singapore Airlines to launch Changi-Canberra-Wellington A330 flights?

written by John Walton | January 12, 2016
Is Singapore Airlines planning A330 flights to Canberra and Wellington?

Singapore Airlines seems set to start Canberra’s first long-haul international services with a four times weekly service from its hub at Changi Airport, which will continue as a tag flight to the New Zealand capital Wellington. The SQ service, expected to be announced by Singapore Airlines chief executive Goh Choon Phong next week in Canberra, according to the Australian Financial Review, will utilise Airbus A330-300 aircraft, the smallest operated by mainline Singapore Airlines.

Little information about the service timetable is known, although given what the Fin reported about the Canberra-Wellington tag flights one can surmise that the SIN-CBR leg will be a red-eye overnight, with a roundtrip to WLG leaving in the morning and returning in the afternoon, followed by another overnight flight between CBR and SIN.

But if the announcement pans out, it will be a real coup for the capital cities, their airports, and the international passengers – often high value government customers – who travel between them. 

An A330-300 would be far and wide the largest aircraft to regularly serve both Canberra and Wellington, and the Singapore Airlines flight would be the first international tag flight from Australia to Wellington — as well as the first nonstop between the two capitals. Wellington Airport is currently served only by narrowbody aircraft, with the largest commercial jet regularly serving the airport the Airbus A320 fleets of Air New Zealand and Jetstar. Canberra too is currently only served by narrowbody aircraft after Qantas retired the 767 from its fleet in late 2014. 

Singapore Airlines’ A330-300s seat 285 passengers, outfitted with 30 Weber 7811 angled lie-flat seats up front in business class and 255 economy seats at 32in pitch in a 2-4-2 configuration down the back.

Both Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand have separate codesharing and alliance arrangements in place with Singapore Airlines (and both Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand are major shareholders in Virgin Australia).

A capital idea?

Canberra Airport, with support from the ACT Government, has long lobbied for international services, particularly since its main runway extension was opened in 2006 and its $350 million terminal redevelopment was progressively opened from 2010. The airport terminal’s western concourse, which is home to the capital’s Virgin Australia flights and opened in March 2013, incorporates space for customs and immigration facilities and gates that can accommodate international flights.

Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways) briefly operated flights to Nadi in 2004, Canberra’s only direct scheduled international services to date, as the airport has suffered from its close proximity to Sydney Airport.

Singapore Airlines, along with Air New Zealand, has long been considered a possible contender to operate international flights to Canberra. Singapore-Canberra-Wellington flights would not only allow Singapore Airlines to offer one-stop connections from Canberra to its extensive Asian and European networks, but, thanks to the open skies arrangement between Australia and New Zealand, allow it to carry passengers nonstop between the nations’ capital cities for the first time.

Canberra flights also allow Singapore Airlines to add more capacity to south-eastern Australia without adding more flights to Sydney, which it already serves up to five times daily.

Unlike Sydney, Canberra is not restricted by a curfew, but on the other hand can be regularly affected by fog in winter. Canberra has a population of around 390,000 but has a much larger population catchment as the NSW Southern Highlands, NSW South Coast and regional centres like Wagga Wagga are within comfortable driving distance of Canberra.

Another New Zealand tag flight dramatically increases trans-Tasman and WLG capacity

As much so for Canberra, the importance of long-haul service (even via a tag flight) to Wellington Airport and New Zealand’s capital cannot be understated. The airport and city have long sought to secure services to reduce the number of connections required to reach WLG, which is currently served primarily via Sydney and Auckland. 

It’s likely the Singapore Airlines A330-300 is currently not capable of flying to Singapore nonstop out of Wellington’s short, geographically constrained runway with a meaningful payload of passengers and freight, hence the tag flight via Canberra making both economic and operational sense.

Australian Aviation profiled Wellington Airport’s ongoing attempts to extend its runway in the July 2015 edition. Its short runway 16/34 – 2,081m in total, including displaced thresholds of 130m at the north end and 106m at the south end – dates back to 2009 when a 130m extension was built into the rocky, deep Wellington Harbour and Cook Strait at either end, respectively.

Wellington Airport’s airline development manager Mike Vincent told Australian Aviation at the time, “Wellington is targeting smaller widebody aircraft around the 300-seat size (Boeing 787-8, Airbus A350-900) as the market has a strong business component which would value frequency. A daily service with a smaller widebody would be preferable to a four times a week large aircraft,” Vincent noted.

It seems like that’s exactly what WLG is going to be seeing with SQ’s A330-300. Yet the SQ service could well be a tentative Singaporean toe dipped into the chilly waters of the Tasman Sea. If the service via Canberra works out, Wellington could well be a candidate for an upgrade to Singapore Airlines’ incoming Airbus A350-900 aircraft.

Airbus’s latest twinjet might provide a greater opportunity, Vincent said. “I think probably the A350 will be a slightly better aircraft for Wellington than the 787. What’s tending to happen at the moment is that aircraft are getting larger and more fuel-efficient. But also the engine thrusts are getting lower as well, as a result. When you put in a runway it is all about power and weight ratio. The 787 probably doesn’t have the same power to weight ratio as, let’s say, the A350 does.”

The A350’s capability – mainly around thrust and weight – changes the game compared with the earlier A330. As WLG’s Mike Vincent noted, “it’s not going to need to take off with a full payload out of Wellington if it’s going to somewhere like Singapore, because Singapore’s only 4,600nm [8,520km] from Wellington. At the end of the day, there will still be a payload restriction, but it probably will be a freight restriction. So the aircraft will be able to land at Wellington with a full payload. They’ll be able to carry at least a full passenger load to these places, but there probably will be a freight restriction.”

Singapore Airlines is playing particularly well with local partner Air New Zealand at the moment, following a resumption of NZ-metal services from AKL to SIN, an upgrade of SQ’s AKL flights to an Airbus A380, and the continuation of Singapore’s Boeing 777-200ER flights to Christchurch.

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Comments (28)

  • Ben


    An opportunity that has been left begging for far too long by both QF and VA (and even NZ). Although VA could possibly add these to its ‘virtual network’ via agreement with partner SQ, as could NZ. It would be an easy run for a 737/320 although 737 J class is not the offering SQ would have on the 330. However, it’s only going to be a 3.5hr flight and I’d think a 330 would be overkill in capacity without the onwards leg to SIN.



    Agreed, once again Australian airlines proving they are only interested in flying selected routes but at the same time demanding government protect them and ensure no on else fly them either. I hope this is successful for Singapore Airlines and they expand their business to other cities in Australia as well. Open up Australia’s air routes to competition and watch the country prosper.

  • Jahnny


    I am a QF loyalist, as such I genuinely hope the bureaucrat-elite take advantage of the SQ direct flight’s J-class to Cbr and thus create enough demand to justify QF adding an A330-200 on the SIN-CBR segment. Then I will certainly take advantage of this long overdue service for CBR.

  • louie


    Wont last for long I`m afraid.For SQ that mind any bum on seat on that flight go to be one less on some other existing flights most likely to or from Sydney.
    I cant see many people would prefer to fly to NZ with stop over in AU with other optional flights available today.O&D traffic between Singapore and Canberra is not so huge and most of diplomatic staff from foreign embassy would prefer frequencies and multiple carriers choices from Sydney instead a 4 flights per week.I guess would be interesting to know what they ( ACT and airport management offer to them to try that)
    I don`t want to be negative and I wish them good luck but to me just looks to good to be true.

  • Geoff


    This is almost certain to happen. It’s the news that Canberra and Wellington International (WLG) deserve and need. Both Capitals have similar population catchments, both have very good business markets and it is in everyone’s interests to have such services. Purely a win for all.

    Why? Some important points to ponder are as follows:

    Canberra planned and acquired its runway extension and much needed new Hotel. Excellent effort Canberra!

    Christchurch was a case in point years ago and Singapore Airlines (SQ) commenced service and have remained. Other airlines have since opened up services.

    Qatar is another pro-active airline example, operating to Perth, after wisely selecting Melbourne as first Australian choice.

    WLG, led by an excellent and active team is following suit with its magnificently researched new Masterplan. The airport hotel and runway extension objectives are well advanced with huge Public and aviation consultancy support. Check their website at http://www.wellingtonairport.co.nz. The business case is compelling.

    Top tier Strategic Planning airlines like SQ continually evaluate market potential. They are best to work out yield value and therefore class of travel offerings.

    SQ plan to operate the excellent A350XWB to Australasia from 2017 and these will eventually replace the efficient A330’s. No coincidence in timing, as their wise Strategic ambitions obviously dictate operational goals. So by 2020, I predict they will be regular visitors to WLG utilising these comfortable and extremely quiet and efficient Airbus aircraft. Wellington’s longer runway with overall TODA’s of approximately 2600 metres will make payload restrictions a non issue. The time then, maybe ripe for the longer haul ambitions of WLG to be realised. Think, also of the enhanced operational safety benefit afforded to the Public into the Capitals runway.

    Look at the overall economic benefits to the central regions of Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand tourism is flourishing (thanks to good diversification planning of the economy). Australia too, is more and more attractive to inbound tourists and Canberra realises this opportunity. The infrastructure enhancements are entirely appropriate and necessary.

    I agree with Wellington Airport’s Mike Vincent, that the A350XWB has generally slightly better performance than the 787 (presumably we are talking -900 versus -9). Both are well suited to these markets as intended by their respective manufacturers. These new aircraft are very quiet and can be even quieter on take-off with a longer runway as this allows for less thrust to be used.

    I predict much growth and opportunity for these regions subject to the support of the Public.

    Again win/win for everyone.

  • Ryan


    Very clever routing. I thought this was a QF missed opportunity, but probably makes more sense for SIA with onward connections from Changi.

  • Aden O'keefe-Buckton


    Finally, soon Canberra will be a commercially international airport again! : )

  • John


    Air Pacific actually operated CBR-NAN for a short time in 2004.

    • australianaviation.com.au


      Thanks @John, that’s correct, and the story has been updated. Apologies.

  • Dave


    Assuming the flight from Singapore to Canberra is an overnighter (would be hard to fill the pointy end if not), I’m not sure now the timings would work on the return to wellington if the same SQ plane was to return to Changi by around 6pm Singapore time same day. That’s ‘peak hour’ for most eastbound inward flights into Changi, to allow same day connections to SE Asia, India and onward to Europe. If it arrived back any later, say 9 or 10pm, there are still connecting flights to Europe departing after midnight, but inter-Asia passengers would mostly need to wait til the following morning.

    Unless… An Air NZ flight departed wellington around 11am NZ time, arrived in Canberra around midday local time to connect with an SQ flight returning to Singapore around 2 or 3 pm (and arriving in Singapore around 7pm). The Air NZ flight also returns to Wellington same day. This would mean CBR – WEL is retained on A320, maybe more suitable given the expected traffic and Wellington’s runway, and also demonstrates the increased cooperation between the two Star Alliance partners?

  • Peter


    Great break through for Canberra and Wellington if this happens.

  • Frequent Flyer


    This is great news for us in Canberra who have to first get to Sydney or Melbourne to catch an international flight to Asia and Europe. Lets hope Canberra can secure more international flights that link us to the Pacific and the Americas.

  • Mike


    I think this could well be the SQ/VA/NZ alliance dipping their collective toes in the water to see what might work. SQ has deeper pockets so might be prepared to be a loss leader to build the market or wear the losses if it doesn’t work. The route could then be split up with SQ doing SIN-CBR (and possibly SIN-WLG direct if there is sufficient demand) and VA/NZ doing CBR-WLG with narrow bodies. This would seem to make more sense in the long run, if there is enough demand. CBR-SIN certainly gives good connections to the rest of Asia and Europe. Unfortunately CBR-WLG doesn’t give many useful connections to points east and VA/NZ really need to look at CBR-AKL.

  • Jackson


    Would be Great to see this happen, while i enjoy planespotting in Wellington, it is very boring to see the same aircraft. I think this will open up a new opportunity for Wellington Airport. Singapore’s timing couldn’t be better as we Currently have our terminal in full swing, allowing more jet gates.

  • Jackson


    Terminal Expansion*

  • Mal


    @Mike I think you are spot on with the idea of the wide body to CBR and the narrow body across the Tasman. Only issue will be timing because SQ will need to make sure they don’t sit in the ground too long. The 10am arrival makes sense but for those working in CBR an evening departure back to WLG would be preferred.

    Perhaps their thinking is a little like the EK with the SYD-CHC sector – throw in the capacity and grow the market. It seems to have worked well for EK – I get that flight at least twice a month and it is almost always near or at capacity.

    Always wondered why NZ/VA haven’t had a crack at it – maybe NZ is too AKL focused or maybe not enough aircraft or interest in the route. QF are very SYD focused and just keen to fix international before expanding again so their lack of interest makes some sense. I doubt if it’s a JQ route!

  • Yusef


    I think the article confused Aus/NZ open skies (open slather for Aus or NZ carriers between the 2 countries) with Fifth Freedom rights (continuing an international service through one country to another). The latter is common on Tasman routes. (EK, CI, LA, D7)

    • australianaviation.com.au


      Hi @Yusef, to clarify, the current Australia-New Zealand air services arrangement is the ‘Single Aviation Market’ (SAM) agreement of 2002, an open skies agreement that included the removal of restriction on fifth freedom rights.

  • Mate here Rewiri


    Great move by Singapore Airlines and Wellington airport.

  • franz chong


    About time.We haven’t had a wide body on that run in quite some years.I have done Christchurch to Sydney on an A320 on my most recent visit over to NZ in 2012 which wasn’t too bad but there are times the 767’s that they used to have on such sectors are sorely missed

  • Jack


    Jahnny the problem for Qantas running a sin-Cbr-Wlg route is at the Singapore end. Fact only about 20% of people flying to Singapore have Singapore as their destination or in other words 80% are in either direct transit or use Singapore as a stopover.

    For sq now worries sin is their hub but for Qantas if they carried those pax to sin who would the fly onwards with? Without that onwards passengers you have lost 80% of your potential customers.

    Actually it is for this reason that Qantas has far less capacity from Australian ports to Singapore. Brisbane for example 1xA330 vs SQ 3xA330.

  • random


    These sort of TAG route extensions are exactly what Townsville needs in its attempt to snag additional international capacity to both Singapore and NZ. Perhaps Jetstar could link Queenstown or Auckland to Singapore through/via Townsville with A321.

  • W


    Dreamt up what a possible schedule for this would be, what do you guys think:

    SQ229 SIN 1905 0600+1 CBR 0720 1240 WLG 333 x135
    SQ230 WLG 2100 2255 CBR 0015+1 0515 SIN 333 x246

  • Peter


    Fiji Airways also fly to Wellington out of Nadi twice a week with Boeing 737-700/800

  • Charles



    On the contrary, this will be popular with diplomats due to the sheer number of flights SIA flies to from SIN. It greatly reduces travel times for those travelling to Asia and Europe. SIA is also cheaper. Why would anyone in their right mind choose to fly an airline that costs more and takes longer to fly with more stopovers? Remember that diplomats are not Australians so they don’t have loyalties of any form to Qantas or any other Australian airline. They are the PERFECT travelers to woo away from Qantas/Virgin. Same deal with overseas students in CBR.

    Qantas doing CBR-SIN will most definitely fail as SIN is a bit of a dead-end for QF.

    Also, I hate QantasLink and their noisy propeller planes. No proper business class on QF domestic as well. Business/diplomatic travelers will most definitely prefer flying SIN out of CBR!

  • Aden O'keefe-Buckton


    Ray this topic was posted before Singapore Airlines CEO made the official announcement that they would be using a 777-200 insted of the A330-300 that everyone was expecting.

  • Alan


    This route will be operated by a 777-200ER and will be a code share with VA. It is anticipated that NZ will announce that they will also code share on this route prior to the first flight taking to the air.

    SQ291 will leave Singapore at 11pm on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday to reach Canberra at 8.35am the next day, continuing to Wellington for a 3.05pm arrival.

    SQ292 will depart Wellington at 8.15pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday arriving into Canberra at 10.05pm, before departing at 11.30pm for a 5.50am arrival into Singapore the following day.

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